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The Spill

The Last Swim

Patricia Taylor Edmisten

Patricia Taylor Edmisten is currently president of the West Florida Literary Federation and is the author of five books, including Wild Women with Tender Hearts, that won the National Peace Corps Writers Award for Poetry.

My husband and I drive across the three-mile Pensacola Bay Bridge, traverse Gulf Breeze, cross the bridge over Santa Rosa Sound to Pensacola Beach, drive west to the ranger station at the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and, in fifteen minutes, are sitting on the softest, whitest sand of any beach in the world.

I was reluctant to come, fearful that my thoughts would turn more morbid than they already are, knowing what lurks sixty miles from our shore, but I wanted to see our beach for what could be the last time. The southerly winds are gentle caresses. Entering the water, I descend a steep incline to where the sand flattens out. Then I immerse myself, shivering from the shock of the early May Gulf waters.

Relaxing and warming, I let the gentle waves cradle me. Today the water is tourmaline, as if dyed with crushed Brazilian gems. I stand straight and look out to sea. Stretching out my arms, I pretend to hold back the oily tide that threatens our pristine shores and all the microorganisms that feed the chain of sea creatures that ultimately feeds us. Photos show that the ooze is not black, but a foamy, viscous, rust-colored soup capable of killing all it coats, every coquina, ghost crab, sandpiper, great blue heron, and brown pelican.

Now I run my toes over the rippled, fine quartz sand beneath my feet. I see my toes as if through clean glass. The ranger at the gate said there were no plans to protect this nationally “protected” park. All that can be done, she says, is a major clean-up, after the fact, as though that activity were blithely superficial, consisting only of gathering and burying the top layer of sand.

I cup the salt water in my hand, bring it to my mouth, kiss it and say goodbye. My husband waits on the shore with a cold glass of Chardonnay, forbidden on this beach, but who cares?

(The draft of this story was written on May 6, 2010, sixteen days after the BP oil disaster, which, at this final writing on May16, 2010, continues to gush from a wound one mile under the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.)

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